Born May 11, 1837, at Bristol, Connecticut, Charles Elliott Mitchell was of ancestry prominent in the history of New England, being descended on his father's side from William Mitchell, a soldier of the Revolutionary War, and on his mother's side from the Rev. Thomas Hooker, founder of the Connecticut colony, which, according to the historian John Fiske, "marked the beginnings of American democracy."
After graduating from Williston Seminary, Brown University and the Albany Law School, he moved in 1864 to New Britain, Connecticut, and began the practice of his profession. There he acquired legislative experience which was to be of great value later when he became Commissioner of Patents since it enabled him to understand how legislation proposed in the interest of the Patent Office must be presented to the Congress and dealt with thereafter to assure its enactment into law.
By reason of his unusual aptitude for mechanics Mr. Mitchell left the general law practice and became one of the recognized leaders in the field of patent law. For many years prior to his appointment to the Commissionership by President Harrison, he appeared on one side or the other in most of the important patent litigations of the day. His appointment was the result of a practically unanimous call by the profession and he took office on April 1, 1889.
The work of the Office was fairly current when he took charge; but he observed that the "pace kept up in recent years is inconsistent with that high degree of care in conducting examinations which the patent system calls for," and that any increase in the work must be secured by a corresponding deterioration in the quality of the work. He worked constantly to increase the force of employees, to increase their pay to meet the mounting cost of living, to secure additional room for the Office, and to provide a well-equipped laboratory.
During Mr. Mitchell's term of office, and beginning on April 8, 1891, the Patent Centennial was held at Washington, a noteworthy celebration lasting nearly a week.
In 1891 Mr. Mitchell resigned his office and returned to practice, locating in New York City, where he was almost constantly in the courts until 1902, when he retired. Then, prior to his death on March 17, 1911, he was occupied as president and legal adviser of the Stanley Rule and Level Company, of New Britain, in which town he spent his last years.
*Republished with permission of the Patent and Trademark Office Society from the article Biographical Sketches of the Commissioners of Patents, 18 J.P.O.S. 145 (1936). The United States Patent and Trademark Office is grateful for the Society’s assistance.